Reviewed by Claire Jesson.
There is a moment in 45 Years when Kate (Charlotte Rampling) observes husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) in her rear-view and wing mirrors. He is some way off, drunkenly vomiting in a layby. Though impassive, we can nonetheless read Kate’s face and the absence of pity through the windscreen: who is this person with whom she has supposedly shared the better part of her life?
The film starts on a Monday morning with Geoff’s receipt of a letter from the Swiss authorities regarding something that occurred in 1962. Otherwise the couple’s focus, initially at least, is oriented towards the Saturday when they will throw a lavish party to mark their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Relating, as the letter does, to a tragic event from Geoff’s pre-Kate life, we might expect it to excite more sympathy than unease. How does it come to poison the well of her 45 years with him? How can a marriage of the same longevity unravel in less than a week, the result of a seemingly remote chain of events in another country?
The screening at the art-house venue where I saw the film was well attended by many who - like the protagonists - came of age and formed partnerships with significant others in the 1960s and 70s to a soundtrack provided by the likes of The Platters, The Turtles and Buffalo Springfield. Its appeal should exceed the demographic upon which marketing cross-hairs have been - undoubtedly successfully - trained, hopefully finding an audience with all of those open to the cinema’s power to lay bare and to navigate the complexities of human relationships. Rampling has already received some richly deserved plaudits for her rendering of Kate’s inner turmoil as the realisation dawns of what their life together has been. In Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers a character describes her own marriage as ‘a tissue of lies’, a more forthright expression of what 45 Years reveals as an inconvenient truth: that we can’t take much for granted regarding the partnerships and networks upon which we depend. Can we even begin to fathom the sedition of which those closest to us might be capable?
The Norfolk Broads create an insipid palette and washed-out backdrop reminiscent of Scandinavian noir. Bergman is by no means an overbearing influence, yet what the minute gestures and expressions of Rampling’s eyes and face say to us about the strains of maintaining the marital façade seem to have him hovering in the vicinity. The last time I saw Rampling at a party was in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (where, in a mother-of-the-bride speech she triumphantly denounces marriage to general consternation) in a scene that nods, in turn, to Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen and the latent horror of the atrocities committed within the outwardly respectable domestic sphere. Yet gestures towards the Nordic - and towards the Gothic as the narrative moves increasingly into the couple’s attic - are tempered by the comic bumbling of Courtenay’s Geoff and the wry, Alan Bennett-style commentary on ‘decrepitude’.
With regards to the aforementioned ‘inconvenient truth’, 45 Years is also a subtle exploration of the political and environmental circumstances that underpin relationships on every level (not only a bourgeois marriage), and it is this aspect that will form the focus of my longer ‘alternate take’.
This review was published on September 11, 2015.
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